The athletic, chic Lagarde is Europe’s favorite to replace former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now under house arrest in New York City facing charges of sexual assault against a hotel maid. And so far, only Uruguay has announced support for the Mexican banker, famous here for his impressive girth and his obsessive quest to keep inflation at bay.
But there is still a sense that Carstens’s candidacy is changing the game when it comes to appointing the head of the IMF — and, by extension, also changing U.S. dominance over the post of World Bank president, the Japanese sinecure atop the Asian Development Bank, and other jobs that have been part of a polite, international spoils system.
At least, this time, there’s a choice — not a European dictat.
“The fund has been in existence for 65 years, and for 65 years it has always been under the management of the Europeans. For the last 33 years, 26 years had been under the management of the French,” Carstens, 52, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t be campaigning if I didn’t believe my candidacy was viable.”
As an expert in international finance and former ranking fund employee, central banker Carstens may arguably have the stronger technical resume, some Washington-based analysts say. Carstens dates his credentials to his teenage years, when Mexico’s 25 percent inflation rate led to animated family conversations about economics.
“You know, I never had much money as a kid, but I remember we had a lot of discussions at home about inflation, exchange rates and devaluation, though at that stage I didn’t know they were called ‘macroeconomic problems,’ ” said Carstens, who holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago.
The IMF board hopes to make a decision this month, and Carstens said he plans to visit Argentina, Canada, Portugal, India, China, Japan and Washington to ask for support. He followed Lagarde to Brazil on Wednesday, where his influential neighbors have been coy about their intentions. He is considered a staunch conservative and his focus on inflation might comfort like-minded Europeans in countries like Germany, but could unnerve a nation like Brazil, struggling to accommodate a rush of incoming international capital that is both fueling growth and pushing up prices.
Even analysts sympathetic with Carstens’s campaign regard him as a long shot: because the Europeans organized quickly around Lagarde and want to keep the post; because the emerging markets won’t likely find a common candidate; because the United States will try to stay neutral for fear of offending either side or losing its prerogatives at the fund or the World Bank.